Both within the military and outside of it, music motivates, inspires and honors service members in everything they do.
Music speaks to existence – from the ordinary to the extraordinary – as it harmonizes our lives. Joining this harmony is military music.
Music is significant to military tradition, as it was and is a means of communication and cohesiveness.
Until radio’s use on the battlefield, a unit’s drums and trumpets were used for communication. Away from the fighting, the martial music maintains unit pride and esprit de corps.
As Leo Tolstoy noted in his novel, War and Peace, the effectiveness of a fighting force is the product of the “mass multiplied by something else,” and that “something else” can mean music.
The hymns of the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps and Navy musically note this sentiment.
The Service Songs:
United States Air Force – “US Air Force Song”
In 1938 Liberty Magazine sponsored a contest for someone to write a song for the Army Air Corps. Out of the 757 submissions, Robert Crawford’s entry was selected and introduced in 1939.
When the Air Force became a separate branch in 1947, Crawford’s music became the US Air Force Song.
United States Army – “The Army Goes Rolling Along”
In 1908 Lt. Edmund Gruber composed “The Caisson Song.”
By the end of World War I, the Army wanted the song made official and asked bandmaster John Phillip Sousa to incorporate the song into his composition, “The US Field Artillery March.”
The Army held a contest in 1948 to find an official song. After four years and 800 submissions, H.W. Arberg rearranged “The Caisson Song” and renamed it as today’s well-known “The Army Goes Rolling Along.”
United States Coast Guard – “Semper Paratus”
These two Latin words mean “Always Ready,” and in 1927 they inspired Captain Francis Van Boskerck to compose the hymn on a beat-up piano in Unalaska, Alaska.
United States Marine Corps – “The Marines Hymn”
Tradition says that a Marine officer wrote the first verse during the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) beginning with the words, “From the Halls of Montezuma, To the Shores of Tripoli” while combining them with Jacques Offenbach’s 1859 melody, “Genevieve de Brabant.”
United States Navy – “Anchors Aweigh”
In 1906 Midshipman Alfred Miles asked Navy bandmaster Lt. Charles Zimmerman to pen a song that “could be used as a football marching song, and one that would live forever.”
The two sailors composed the tune and lyrics, and when they finished they dedicated “Anchors Aweigh” to the class of 1907.
Music About the Military
At the start of the Civil War in 1861, a young South Carolinian wrote in his diary after a concert, “I felt at the time that I could whip a whole brigade of the enemy myself!”
Music can also be inspiring about the military and those who serve.
- Hail Columbia, Philip Phile (1789)
- The Star-Spangled Banner, Francis Scott Key (1814)
- Columbia Gem of the Ocean, Thomas a’Becket (1840s)
- Taps, Daniel Butterfield (1862)
- Semper Fidelis, by John Philip Sousa (1888)
- The Liberty Bell March, John Philip Sousa (1893)
- The Stars and Stripes Forever, John Phillip Sousa (1897)
- You’re a Grand Old Flag, George Cohan (1906)
- Over There, George Cohan (1917)
- Oh! How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning, Irving Berlin (1918)
- This Is My Country, Al Jacobs and Don Raye (1940)
- Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, the Andrew Sisters (1941)
- American Patrol, Glenn Miller (1946)
- Ballad of The Green Berets, Barry Sadler (1966)
- The Fightin’ Side of Me, Merle Haggard (1969)
- Ragged Old Flag, Johnny Cash (1974)
- Remember the Heroes, Sammy Hagar (1982)
- God Bless the USA, Lee Greenwood (1991)
- Some Gave All, Billy Ray Cyrus (1992)
- Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue, Toby Keith (2002)
- American Soldier, Toby Keith (2003)
- Have You Forgotten, Darryl Worley (2003)
- Bumper of My SUV, Chely Wright (2004)
- Letter from Home, John Michael Montgomery (2004)
- Arlington, Trace Adkins (2005)
- These Colors Don’t Run, Iron Maiden (2006)
- If You’re Reading This, Tim McGraw (2007)
- Citizen Soldier, Three Doors Down (2007)
- For You, Keith Urban (2012)
- My Name is America, Todd Herendeen (2015)
Take a listen; there’s power in the music.